Editor's Note: It can be challenging to be creative and productive when our lives are disrupted. How can we make breakthroughs? This wonderful article from alumni Randi Cantrell can help you develop a new routine now that pandemic is the new normal. I hope that you find inspiration in her words and create.

You know how everything is interesting when you’re in a new place? Say you’re walking down the street in, oh I don’t know, Dublin, and you stop right there in the middle of the crowded sidewalk, and you look around and think, “This is great. This is so great. I should take a picture.” And you do.

And then you come across a side street that beckons you to stray from your original path. You don’t know where it leads or whether you’ll end up somewhere you’re not supposed to be, but you take it. Maybe there is some defining characteristic about this street that makes you turn, but more likely, the reason you turn has nothing to do with where you are, but rather with something inside you. An openness. An echoing question that holds no fear for whatever answer might come in return.

When we’re someplace new, we want to absorb every detail, so we follow every street that calls to us, and end up finding things we never would have known to seek out in the first place. That feeling is the souvenir I most want to bring home from my travels, the one I most want to keep with me every day. The awareness and curiosity.

How can we capture that feeling in our everyday, routine lives, and use it to our advantage? How do we continue to appreciate our surroundings and see them in a way that can keep us motivated and inspired as creatives? If all good advertising contains a human truth or insight, we need to be good observers of human behavior as well as our surroundings. To do that, we need to be curious.

Curiosity is something which can be developed, not a skill that one has or doesn’t have.

There are a lot of articles about curiosity. Most of the authors of these articles agree that curiosity is something that, if watered, can grow. Matthew Knight, head of Strategy and Innovation at Carat UK, talks about curiosity as a muscle. He says, “Curiosity is something which can be developed, not a skill that one has or doesn’t have. It’s something which weakens as we grow older... so you have to work at it, until it becomes again second nature.” He also says: “Curiosity is about setting up as many open conversations and thoughts in your mind as possible, which can collide, serendipitously with other conversations when needed.”

If creativity is about connecting things in unexpected ways, and curiosity is the thing that allows us more knowledge and experience to make those connections, it seems logical, obvious even, that the two are connected. And yet, we’re all still trying to figure out exactly how the two work together. (A group of researchers recently published a study on the link between curiosity and creative problem solving. You can check that out here.)

You might be wondering what "being more curious" looks like and how much time it will take you. Does working on our curiosity require one hour a day? Or one hour a week? And how will you know when it’s working? When will you see the benefits of your newfound increased curiosity?

I think one of the reasons a lot of us aren’t curious, or aren’t actively working on increasing our curiosity, is that there isn’t necessarily a formula with an immediate, tangible result we can point to. We can't say, “X amount of curiosity will lead to X amount of creativity.” There’s no answer to where we’ll end up when we stray from our everyday path. There’s no road map that tells us which side streets provide the most inspiration, no list showing which questions are the right ones to ask. Even further, we can’t anticipate the answers we’ll get when we start asking those questions. And that’s uncomfortable, especially as a student looking to break into an industry that seems to demand almost instant creativity.

Maybe the key, then, is just being open to the discomfort that comes with not knowing. To learn to welcome that unknown, and even seek it out.

Todd Kashdan, author, scientist, and professor of psychology at George Mason University, suggests starting with just five minutes a day, and he outlines several simple ways to do that here. Our friend from earlier, Matthew Knight, created a tool called OneDayCurious. It generates a daily task, no more than 15 minutes long, to help exercise your curiosity. As it says, all you need is a notebook, a pen, and a willingness to observe.

Or, you could start projects that involve skill sets normally outside of your wheelhouse. Why not? For example, I recently discovered The Sketchbook Project. As a writer, sketching/drawing isn't normally my jam, but I'm taking part in the project as a way of working on my own curiosity.

So, here’s what I think it boils down to: when you feel that pull to turn down a side street, that openness to the unknown, follow it. And if you don’t feel it, manufacture it until you do. Take five minutes and go explore. Talk to someone new. Ask questions. Maybe you’ll see huge benefits in your creative work or personal life, or, maybe you won’t. But aren’t you curious to find out?

You see, maybe curiosity didn’t kill the cat after all. Maybe the cat is just out exploring.